How to Understand the Opposite Sex
by Janet Jacobsen
All this raving by women that men never talk about their feelings has
got to stop; men do talk about their feelings, but they phrase it differently
than women do. And men need to hush up about how difficult it is to know
whats going on with women - a lament permanently enshrined by Frauds
question, What does a woman want? We are telling you all the
time, but you are paying attention to the wrong things.
The solving of these seemingly perpetual problems is a two-step process.
One is that you have to phrase your question right in the first place,
so that they understand the question on their terms. Then you have to
translate what you hear back to the person in your own terms, and then
negotiate from there.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
In our culture, men get lots of reinforcement for action, for analysis,
for a Sergeant Friday Just the facts, maam approach
to life. So they carry on much of their conversation in those terms.
Women, on the other hand, are raised with an emphasis on the process -
how is everyone getting along? How are you feeling? How are things affecting
you? Their approach emphasizes understanding and sympathy, rather than
any call to action.
Which is not to say that men dont have feelings or cant be
sympathetic, or that women cant be factually- oriented or take action.
Its just that we tend to approach the world out of our particular
Consequently, ladies, when you want to know how a man feels about a subject,
ask him what he thinks. What do you think about how things are going
at work? Gentlemen, when you want to know a womans thoughts
on a subject, ask her how she feels. So how are you feel-ing about
your car after all those repairs?
REPEAT IT LIKE YOU HEARD IT
In both cases, the person will probably give you lots of information (assuming
youre a careful listener who doesnt try to tell the other
person what they are thinking, but really pays attention to what the other
person says). When they do, tell them what you heard in your own terms.
So the work discussion goes like this:
What do you think about how things are going at work?
The situation is looking pretty grim. Three more people are being
laid off this week. Morales getting real low. I dont know
how much longer Ill have a job.
At this point she can summarize the feelings she thinks these statements
represent. Sounds like youre getting worried about the situation.
At which point he will probably say, Of course Im worried.
Isnt that what I just said?
Or maybe hell say, Not worried, really. But maybe nervous.
Definitely nervous. Now she knows what she wanted to know - how
hes feeling about his job.
The car conversation would go like this:
He says, So how are you feeling about your car after all those repairs?
It makes me so angry I could just scream. I hate having to depend
on auto-mobiles when they dont work. I get upset just thinking about
having to get in that car again.
Here he summarizes what hes heard in terms of the action they suggest.
Sounds like youre thinking about trading this one in.
At which point she will probably say, Of course I have to trade
it in. Isnt that what I just said?
Or maybe, No, Im not trading it in. I hate car shopping even
more than I hate this car. Now he knows what he wanted to know -
what she wants to do about her car.
COMMUNICATION IS ONLY APPROXIMATE
Notice that in both cases it doesnt really matter if the persons
interpretation of what they heard was wrong. By telling the other person
what you think youve heard, it gives them a chance to clarify the
situation, thus achieving the real goal for both people - understanding,
and feeling understood.
Now it may well be that in both our examples, there is a lot more to be
said, many more options to discuss, many more feelings to clarify. As
long as the conversation follows this process - asking the question in
their terms, clarifying whats said in your own - you are likely
to stay on course, and not get sidetracked into side issues (such as whether
all men/women are all alike, etc.).
If you feel things going astray, state your position in their terms. He
says, What Im trying to do is understand how you feel about
this. She says, Its important to me to understand what
youre thinking is on this.
And what you will get, with enough practice, is a man who talks about
his feelings and a woman who tells you what she wants. And then well
all have to look for something else to complain about.